Published: 10-10-2011, 14:56

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) - American Education

Thirty-second president of the United States and the only president to be elected to four terms in office. More than any president before him, he involved the federal government in the creation of broad educative institutions through agencies to provide grants for the fine arts, theater, music and literature. His efforts did not grow out of his personal love of the arts, but from a need to get millions of unemployed people back to work during the Great (economic) Depression of the 1930s—including the thousands of unemployed writers, artists, actors and dancers.

Born to wealth in Hyde Park, New York, Roosevelt was educated at the elite Groton School and Harvard University and earned his law degree at Columbia University. His political career began in 1910 and carried him to the New York governorship, in 1928 and in 1930, and to the presidency, in 1932, as the nation cried out for help in the midst of its economic agonies. In his first famous “100 Days” in office, he enacted sweeping economic and social reforms—the “New Deal”—that reorganized the American political, financial, economic, industrial, agricultural and social systems. In effect, the New Deal transformed a laissez-faire economy and social system into a modified socialist state, with myriad Washington agencies regulating key industries and providing the American people with annual stipends designed to keep them fed, clothed and housed.

A primary thrust of the New Deal was to put as many as possible of the nation’s 13 million unemployed back to work. Roosevelt’s first effort came in 1933, when he issued an executive order creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, putting young men 18 to 25 to work on conservation projects and providing subsistence funds to keep youngsters 16 to 24 in school. Funds were also provided so that needy young people who had quit school could be put to work on neighborhood projects. By 1935, more than a half-million young men were working in the CCC, not only contributing to the conservation needs of their country, but also earning money for themselves and learning useful trades they could take back to civilian life after their year of service expired. World War II ended the need for the CCC nine years later, by which time it had enrolled some 2.5 million men, who had planted billions of trees, halted the erosion of millions of acres of soil and created hundreds of parks and recreation areas.

Recognizing that unemployed artists and writers were just as entitled to work as any other segment of the unemployed, Roosevelt backed the establishment in 1933 of the Public Works of Art Project, which hired 3,000 artists across the United States to decorate public buildings with murals depicting American history. The project exposed millions of otherwise isolated rural Americans to fine art and history lessons. With the establishment of the WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION (later, the Works Projects Administration) in 1935, the Roosevelt administration incorporated the Public Works of Art Project into a broader Federal Art Project that included commissions for artists, musicians, dancers, playwrights, poets and other unemployed artists. In all, the Federal Art Project engaged more than 100,000 writers, artists, musicians, dancers and other artists, who not only earned subsistence incomes to carry them through the Great Depression but also brought culture to some of the most remote areas of the nation. The program marked the beginning of massive federal government sponsorship of the arts. It shifted its focus during World War II to sponsorship of massive programs of entertainment for American service personnel throughout the world. After the war, the program continued with the establishment of the NATIONAL FOUNDATION ON THE ARTS AND HUMANITIES.